Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
This weekend, for the first time since early January, the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville are set to play a game of hockey, this time it is against the Huskies of Michigan Tech. The Huskies are a team that relies on strong systems, and physical play to suppress shot chances and wear down opponents. Looking back at the Chargers’ series loss to them in Houghton, the results indicated a better game by the Huskies in the series opener, and a more even one in the finale. The difference in the finale was former Charger Mark Sinclair in net, as he made more grade-a saves against UAH than Blake Pietila had to do the night before. The two present a dichotomy of sort in chance generation and suppression that arguably could dictate this weekend’s final outcome. With that in mind, here are three things we will be watching this weekend.
Defending in transition
Michigan Tech has a reputation for being a physical team. With that said, they are also a very structured team that is deceptively fast in their transition game, something that Alabama Huntsville has to do better on controlling this weekend. For an example of this gap showing in the numbers, look at the Saturday game. The Huskies used that speed through the neutral zone to generate 60 total shot attempts to a mere 34 for the Chargers. When Michigan Tech has their speed through the neutral zone, it is required for the Chargers to effectively keep to their system. Doing so can mitigate some of the speed that the Huskies have. Earlier on in the season, when Alabama Huntsville could not track back through the neutral zone, other teams, like Robert Morris and Michigan Tech made them pay for it with multiple high danger chances In the Sunday affair, when the difference was a bit more even, the pace of the game benefited the Chargers as they were able to stay closer to their system throughout.
Utilizing speed on transition
If Alabama Huntsville can track back through the neutral zone, their ability to accelerate to offense and provide their own quick looks could be a big part of this weekend non-conference affair. Alabama Huntsville generated four more shot attempts than the Huskies in the series finale in large part because they were able to get into the zone and did this with their quick ability to generate chances. Only one skater that game did not attempt a shot on net for the Chargers. Connor Witherspoon did not attempt a shot, but was nearly even on his faceoffs (6-7) and played a big defensive depth role, as he always does. As the Chargers get more repetition at this effort, they should be able to find the open looks a bit easier. While UAH had 52 shot attempts, 22 were blocked. For as fast as UAH is, they need to find the open look a bit more against this physical Michigan Tech team to have a better outcome at home than they did on the road.
Maintaining structure behind the blue line
The biggest improvement in this team, with 14 freshmen now on it is in its own end. That is, the structure of how this team defends collectively has improved from a year ago. Against the Huskies, on both nights where the Chargers stayed in their system and made the Huskies earn everything, the team did alright. When the system broke down and gave the fast Huskies openings, the Chargers had to scramble a lot in their own end, and most of the goals conceded were due to simple breakdowns, or a lack of structure, permitting an easier chance for Michigan Tech. This team, and its coaches often talk about being a collective group on the ice, since the first game in January we have seen more from these Chargers. How they can build on it will determine their fate this weekend.
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